Recently-released WikiLeaks documents show that detained al Qaeda members have predicted nuclear reprisals if Osama bin Laden were captured or killed.
The classified Defense Department files, obtained from detainee interviews at the Guantanamo Bay prison, werea week before the raid in Pakistan that resulted in bin Laden's demise. (See .)
Abu al-Libi, al Qaeda's third in command and "operational chief" before he was captured in 2005, reportedly said the nuclear device was "located in Europe" and would be used in retaliation over bin Laden's death, according to the leaked files. The phrase "nuclear hellstorm" appears in the Defense Department's dossier on Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, who allegedly confessed to masterminding the September 11 attacks and will be tried by a military tribunal.
Another detainee, Sharif al-Masri, reportedly said that if al Qaeda was able to move the bomb to the United States, they would be able to find operatives of Europeans of Arab or Asian descent to use it. He said, the records show, if bin Laden "were to be captured or killed, the bomb would be detonated in the US" and that al-Libi "would be one of those able to give the order."
The claims--which could, of course, be false--add more detail to suspicions in Washington about possible reprisals following Sunday's special forces raid in Pakistan. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, told Fox Business yesterday that "we have to assume that al Qaeda is going to try to retaliate as quickly, as lethally as possible."
John Brennan, deputy national security advisor, said this morning that the administration is taking "measures to guard against any type of reaction, adverse reaction to the news of bin Laden's death," including deciding whether to release photographs and video. Brennan made those remarks on CBS News' Early Show (CNET is a sister news organization).
Speculation about al Qaeda possessing nuclear weapons is hardly new. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in 2007 that "Osama bin Laden has already talked about wanting an American Hiroshima" and that neither obtaining the material nor building a bomb is very difficult. A 2006 Rand Corporation study (PDF) says al Qaeda "was trying to develop the capability for at least a low-level attack involving the dispersal of radioactive material"--in other words, a less challenging dirty bomb that would spread radioactive material but not yield a nuclear explosion.
Other secret Guantanamo documents published by WikiLeaks starting on April 24 show:
Mohommad Zahir (PDF), reportedly a major weapons dealer associated with the Taliban, was arrested "on suspicion of possessing weapons including Stinger missiles and uranium," which were "intended for use in a nuclear device."
Muhammad Binyam (PDF), a member of al Qaeda, reportedly suggested "constructing a nuclear dirty bomb for an attack against the U.S.," and said he was willing "to become a martyr."
Abd Al Rahim Abdul Raza Janko (PDF), who acknowledged receiving training at al Qaeda's al Faruq Training Camp, reportedly described plans "including nuclear attacks and suicide attacks around the world," although interrogators viewed his reliability as suspect and questioned whether he would have had access to that information.
CNET intern Amanda Golden contributed to this report